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Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

This article was originally published in 2020.

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

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Real Estate Technology

How fake images are infiltrating suburban geography

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) The rise in quality of deepfakes has even lead to the development of fake images in geography and housing. Here’s what to look out for.

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A digital map open on a computer, where one has to be wary of fake images.

With the onset of the computer age, we have seen a great deal of false information spreading around the world. From photoshopped images to presidents broadcasting fake information, there is a lot to be wary of. The internet is rife with data that truly needs to be verified at any given turn. The dangerous part is not only what people can do with that information, but also how they can hide things with it.

Satellite imagery has been on the rise for a few decades. An image that is already grainy and hard to see would be child’s play to alter. Maybe even to create from scratch. Tagging GPS coordinates are a simple alteration inside of photoshop too. Fakes, upon fakes, upon fakes.

In 2019, the US military warned about the possibility of fake geographical information being perpetuated across the internet. It then actually came true to the embarrassment of the Chinese government. Satellite “evidence” was used to report detention camps hidden away in the countries. The “camps” turned out to be re-education facilities for China’s mentally deviant populace. However, that’s another rabbit hole to run down. The point here is that the images that were released in 2015 showed absolutely no facility and then pictures in 2018 showed a massive facility.

An assistant professor, Bo Zhao, with the University of Washington decided to illustrate this again with a study. His opinion was “the first step to tackling these issues is to make people aware there’s a problem in the first place”. He and his colleagues published a paper on “deep fake geography”. They conducted experiments in generating and detecting imagery for suburban homes. Showing the affect of this technology on our economy. They were able to easily convert the shape and layout of a neighborhood in their images.

From this work we have a few new terms to be aware of. Threats of “paper towns” and “trap streets” are two of the new resounding terms. These new ideas can lead to a modicum of potential issues. The team actually created a software that has the ability to create these fake images. They did the work themselves, leading one to believe that the basic knowledge is there for anyone with a little know-how.

The moral of the story is, don’t trust anything from the internet. It’s all an opinion coming from some other flawed human being, and you don’t ever really know why people are putting that information out there. Always know and check your sources.

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Real Estate Technology

This company puts robot legs on buildings to ‘walk’ them to new locations

(TECH NEWS) China is balancing preserving its architectural heritage with rapid modern expansion, using unique technology inspired by 19th century.

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Looking up at a building in a city environment.

It’s a big enough pain to rearrange the furniture in my living room. Whether permanent, or looking for that cookie I swore I dropped behind the couch, even something that might take me 30 seconds of exertion is usually above my tolerance threshold.

Let’s magnify that problem by about a billion and start asking questions on how an entire building might be moved.

Not a shed in your neighbor’s backyard (which makes odd sounds some nights), not something designed to be portable on a trailer, and not a glorified tent or collapsible structure. We’re talking about a concrete structure weighing hundreds of tons and the need to have it move to a new permanent location.

Shanghai Evolution Shift has developed support that act as robotic legs, and a few hundred of them together can be placed under a building and literally have it walk to a new location. I’m simplifying it a bit here, so don’t let it sound too insane – there’s still a lot of physics and real world and astronomically heavy things involved, so it’s not exactly some miracle fix that can be deployed in one afternoon. But it is still remarkable – half the supports lift, the other half move into place, the load-bearing first group shifts the building forward a few feet, the second half rise to hold, and this process repeats.

Ultimately, a structure can be moved across the ground and be placed elsewhere; in this case, it was the Lagena Primary school – an 85 year old building weighing 7600 tons built in 1935 by the former French Commission – moved 62 meters (203 feet) along a curved path over the course of 18 days, turning 21 degrees in the transition. More impressive, the historical building is not a standard square/rectangle, but instead an odd T-shape. This was done to make room for new commercial and office space, which is set to be completed by 2023.

Some of you are thinking crutches don’t sound too awful right now.

This has set off a debate about conservation of architectural history, as there is a concern to keep storied buildings of the past in the ever-increasing march toward modernized expansion. Former Chinese Emperor Mao Zedong even waged a cultural war on “The Four Olds” in an attempt to erase previous examples of earlier Chinese civilization, prompting the destruction and razing of monuments and numerous buildings. Even with this type of mandate no longer in place, urbanization has become relentless and threatens to erase entire cultural cornerstones.

There have been attempts to draft plans to ensure conservation of such sites is achieved, and in doing so, this has brought about the need to see building relocation as a viable option. Shanghai has especially been a strong example of this preservation, setting itself as a leader in making sure the past is represented, saved, and respectfully maintained.

Interestingly, some of the ideas here are literally from over 150 years ago, and were deployed en masse in Chicago. At the time, there was a drainage problem – the city had no clearance above Lake Michigan, making all of its roads and buildings at water level. This meant that water and sewage would not run off, causing stagnant pools to appear across all roads, leading to outbreaks of diseases yearly.

Here, too, was an outlandish solution proposed and then executed – raising Chicago itself several feet. Trenches would be dug under a building, thousands of giant jackscrews would be placed in a giant grid pattern, and hundreds of workers would turn them in unison until the building was suddenly well above its original footprint. Interestingly, not only did this work, but there were no fatalities and only a small handful of incidents.

This process went on for twenty years, and despite some hiccups with sidewalks being hilariously uneven during that time, the results were a resounding success. The increase in height meant that a sewer system could be installed on the roads and buried, which fixed the original problem. Maybe the craziest thing about this is that so few people remember it, despite Chicago having always been a hub of American history.

There’s actually an entire history involved with moving houses using logs and animals and other means, in case anyone is interested. Apparently it is much more common than you’d think; we’ve got better technology today, but sometimes people just made do.

Last joke because I would be disappointed in anyone who didn’t reference this (including myself): Howl’s Moving Castle anyone?

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Real Estate Technology

Transcribe your flood of meetings with Tony

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) With all the audio meetings that have to take place now it might be useful to get a transcriber, TonydoorAI is a free one that’s perfect for you.

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Tony doorAI TonydoorAI

While meetings sometimes (rightfully) get a bad rep for being a waste of time, there are often moments where meetings are crucial for the betterment of your work. And, in these cases, meetings can be particularly daunting.

You’re worried about how to dress, what to say, and how to say it, all while retaining the information presented and taking helpful notes for your future self. It’s impossible to do all of that at the same time and feel like you hit it out of the park.

Even with our current world of video meetings from home, it can still be hard to manage all of those components and take detailed notes that will make sense in the future. However, there may be a friend who can help.

TonyDoorAI is an AI assistant for calls and video meetings. Users can turn it on to record meetings on Zoom or Google Meet.

The AI can transcribe in 120 languages and can summarize in two minutes with 95 percent accuracy. This is a largely untapped system of record that is designed with remote teams in mind.

The system also provides time-stamped notes and works to keep the communication between customers or employees smooth and transparent. TonyDoor has strong analytic skills built into the platform that track a conversation’s theme and structure – in only one hour, the system will review an hour-long meeting into your CRM.

There are plans tailored for all business types, including a free plan that offers four hours of transcription per month, records Zoom and Google Meet, provides time-stamped notes, and integrates with Slack and Calendar.

On the website, Tony states that only the user owns the data and that they do not sell or use data for their interests. Additionally, Tony explains the encryption of data as, “We encrypt your data at rest, including emails, calendar events and other personal identifiable metadata. We use a 256-bit AES encryption in storage and a 256-bit SSL/TLS encryption in transit. Our database is hosted in a Virtual Private Cloud with AWS.”

Tony sounds like an ideal helper for new client calls, interviews, and anything where you want to retain information. Give us your thoughts on AI transcription in the comments!

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